Chicago rapper Fatimah Nyeema Warner, famously known as her alias Noname, stopped by the 505's very own Launchpad last Wednesday to give what potentially could have been a truly stunning performance. Unfortunately, it was not all that I had personally hoped for.
A Noname song requires presence and space, a physical room for the songs to breathe, and Launchpad is a very small oblong-cube wherein the acoustics feel muddy and like white noise at times.
I don’t blame the sound on Noname or her band though, as hearing her on NPR's Tiny Desk and a few festival performances she usually sounds as good as her studio recordings - if not better.
Over the course of hip hop's short history, very few women have broken through to become prolific in the genre. Modern crown holders consist of Nicki Minaj, Cardi B and those brief few weeks around when Iggy dropped The New Classic. All these artists are calculated and label-groomed so that they constantly seem to be working on the exact same flows and sounds with little to no variation between them. In comparison to the overly flaunty and aggressive styles of the “queens” of rap, Noname took to stage in a vintage Lil’ Kim shirt and a some casual Adidas sweats to command the stage after seemingly rolling out of bed.
And as attention-grabbing as she was, Noname seemed to be the most relatable, down to earth, and fun-loving artist I'd seen in a while. Through a handful of features, most notably on Chance the Rapper's last two albums, and one self-released universally acclaimed mixtape, she fell short of selling out the Launchpad. Albeit, the venue's one of Albuquerque’s smallest and dingiest, however, the audience could care less; attendance was mostly just die-hard fans that knew every quick lyric pronounced throughout the night.
Noname's 2016 acclaimed mixtape Telefone was celebrated for its stripped-down production and profound lyrical content
Noname was touring with songs from her 2016 mixtape, Telefone. On it, the Chicago native explores many uncomfortable topics in just a tight 33-minute runtime. Take “Bye Bye Baby" for example, Noname reconciles with herself about a past abortion that has been weighing heavy on her mind, while "Casket Pretty" looks into the violence in Chicago and the rest of the track listings go from drug and alcohol abuse to racism and feminism. What makes the album work is the use of smooth jazz and soulful instrumentals in addition to Nonames vocal delivery. Her most touching song still sounds hopeful and happy, despite the bleak lyrical content. I found that her flow is very reminiscent of Andre 3,000, specifically on “Reality Check,"
“Seventeen moments and cloudy days on my snap
Mysterious aberration illuminated the trap
My telephone-calications synonymous with the sunrise
Mountains against the foreground forever me coming back”
She weaved a handful of features into the set list, which consisted of all of the songs from her mixtape. Despite the relatively short length of her songs, Noname concluded tracks with ad-libbed little freestyles and, every now and then, let her seven-piece band grove for a few minutes.
However despite these added impromptu moments Noname's performance still felt a bit too short and, once her band the left the stage, the audience stayed around to chant six minutes for an encore that wouldn’t happen. I, like many others, felt a bit hurt by this lack of showmanship; it felt as if Noname had built a genuine connection with the audience and threw it out without a second thought. Honestly, I was worried that this might happen when she played her most well-received song, "Diddy Bop", right after her opener. There were a myriad of better ways Noname could've concluded her show on Wednesday. Her killer verse on the song "Kale" by Joseph Chilliams, in which she calls out label executives and demands rappers fall in line with her to stand up to big labels, would have made for a particularly cathartic moment.
Hell, even half of that song would have been a fantastic send-off but, just like her mixtape, I’m left wanting more.
Colton Newman is a writer for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org